Hannah Arendt called it "The Banality of Evil." I would say instead that it's the stupidity of evil. As I watched "W.", Oliver Stone's new film about George W. Bush, I could only think that the evil he did in his two terms as president came from his own stupidity, rather than something as ephemeral as banality, which is really what intellectuals, those who regard evil from a distance, tend to think. "Oh," you say, "It was just banal." Well, somehow banality doesn't have the force of stupidity.
Was the holocaust, which Arendt was referring to, merely banal? No. It was insane. But George W. Bush was merely stupid. He made stupid decisions, one after another, and those decisions had enormous, even cataclysmic results - the war in Iraq, the two men he put on the Supreme Court, the use of torture - I could go on. He destroyed America's stature in the world community, and it will take generations to get it back.
Very few stupid men ever get to lead a country, and George W. Bush was a stupid man. Fortunately for him, though not for the United States, he had Dick Cheney as his Vice President, a very very smart man who manipulated Bush into doing everything he wished. He was Bush's Savonarola.
I say all of this more out of sorrow than anger. Oliver Stone has made what's usually called a biopic - taking Bush from his Yale days - a drinker, a hellion - right up through the Iraq war. Stone's film tends to attribute Bush's ambition to a rivalry with his brother Jed and a love-hate relationship with his father, who according to the film had to get George out of many scrapes and then find an endless variety of work for him, from most of which he either quit or was fired.
I'm not sure what Stone's thesis was for the film, nor am I sure just why he made it at all. It shows in great detail the runup to the Iraq invasion, with everyone from Rumsfeld to Rice to Powell to Cheney to Rove weighing in about the supposed weapons of mass destruction. Josh Brolin is George, and I think that was a mistake in casting; the real George has a different Texas accent, his body language is different from Brolin's, and we're constantly having to remind ourselves that this is supposed to be the president of the United States.
Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney does get it right; he is ominously quiet throughout, simply nudging the president in the direction he wants him to go. I think we're so accustomed to having presidents who think for themselves that we didn't know that George simply didn't know how to think; he seems to have more in common with people who called Obama an Arab, a Muslim or worse, flying in the face of the facts. Somehow facts never seemed to enter George's mind, and that makes him an uninteresting focus of the film; there's simply no center there. Maybe in real life there wasn't; we'll have to leave it to the historians, not the film critics, to sort it out.